Woodlands sneaks into top six phase

The first phase of the Southland premier club competition finished on Thursday night, and the main talking point is Woodlands has qualified for the top six.

There were two pools of six teams in the first phase of competition, scheduled to play each other once.

Now, the top three from each pool will go on to contest the Galbraith Shield.

Te Anau's 19-17 win over Midlands on Wednesday night looked like it would be enough to secure it third spot in Pool A behind Marist and the Barbarians, and ahead of Woodlands, Edendale and Midlands.

However, Woodlands pulled off an upset 14-10 win over the Eastern Northern Barbarians on Thursday night to claim the third spot.

Woodlands knew a win was required on its home ground, or it was exiting the top grade.

Coach Derek Manson put the win down to a vastly improved attitude and some welcome returns from injury: "The boys provided a performance more worthy of their talent".

Halfback Toka Sopoaga has been one of the team's best players this this year and had another strong game, as did loose forward Matt James, who was playing his first competition game for Woodlands.

James played for Sydenham, in Christchurch, last year but has signed with Southland this season. Manson was also pleased to have the experience of Jason Rutledge at prop and Ricky Bakker at first five-eighth.

"We are glad to have earned our spot in the top six and we will only get better from here."

Te Anau had several key players unavailable for its match at Limehills, but the younger members in its squad were up for the challenge.

Both teams struggled to get going in a messy first half with Midlands leading 5-0 at the break. Te Anau made some replacements which helped them gather some forward momentum.

Captain Tom Scanlan and fellow prop Kane Prentice led the charge throughout. Flanker James Wairau covered the field in attack and defence and lock Niumaia Bari was rewarded for his efforts with two tries.

First five-eighth Jordan Maher directed the team professionally, and coach Dale Wairau had special praise for the "old fox", Hisashi Cole, for again coming out of retirement to help the team.

"It wasn't the prettiest, but I'd rather have an ugly win than a pretty loss," Wairau said.

In the third Pool A game, Marist beat Edendale 35-5 on Thursday night in Edendale.

In Pool B, the game of the round was supposed to between Blues and Pirates Old Boys at Les George Oval, but a car hitting a power pole was enough to knock out the lights and the game was cancelled before it got under way.

The drawn result meant Blues only played two of their scheduled five games, after being defaulted to in two of their previous games. The result does not affect the positions for the next round with both teams moving forward along with Star, which was the top qualifier and the unbeaten team from Pool B.

Star also went without a game this week after it was defaulted to by Waikaka.

Waikaka only had 14 players. Star manager Andrew McHugh was understanding of Waikaka's plight.

"We had to default a game last year for the same reason. They told us nice and early on Tuesday night. They have a genuine reason and they've got their division one competition to get ready for next week."

In the third Pool B match, Wyndham beat Riversdale 22-9 on a sunny Thursday afternoon in Riversdale.

-By John Langford

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